chomsky vs. halliday

GE: If Chomsky's left, is Halliday right? | Pinkie | July 17th, 2001

Dear all:

This post is probably of interest only to people with a particular interest in grammar. You have been warned!

I'm translating an article about how to treat aphasia in bilingual subjects, and while reading about the field I came across the following very interesting section from an article called "Aphasia in bilinguals: how atypical is it?" (Paradis 1988, in Coppens et al eds "Aphasia in Atypical Populations", Erlbaum). I post it here in view of its relevance to the Chomsky versus Halliday debate; though please note a) that the author makes clear that these ideas are only hypotheses, and b) that nice neat two-way splits have a habit of turning out to be less neat than they first appeared!

Anyway, here's the snippet...

In the normal use of language, in addition to the interpretation of the literal meaning of sentences, a discourse grammar, including rules of presupposition and inference, and in general any extrasentential, context-dependent phenomenon, is required. Sociolinguistic rules, which determine the appropriate choice among the various possible structures available in linguistic competence, are equally necessary. Paralinguistic competence, comprising the use of affective prosody, facial expressions, gestures, and anything that serves to specify the meaning of the sentence, such as whether it is meant as a sarcastic remark or an indirect speech act, or whether it is to be given a figurative, metaphoric, or idiomatic meaning, is likewise required.

Damage in specific areas of the left cerebral hemisphere has been reported to disrupt the comprehension and/or production of various aspects of phonology, morphology, syntax, and the lexicon to varying degrees. These deficits are grouped under the term aphasia. It is therefore well established that these aspects of language (as they pertain to sentence grammar) are subserved by areas of the LH.

In addition to occasional mild symptoms of aphasia subsequent to RH lesions in sites homologous to the classical LH language areas in some patients, as mentioned earlier, clear deficits of a different nature, affecting the comprehension and production of indirect speech acts, humor, affect, and various aspects of nonliteral interpretation of utterances, have been reported [over 20 references cited; details on request]. Deficits secondary to RH damage thus typically involve those aspects of language use other than the literal interpretation of (context-independent) sentences and requiring some form of inference from the situational or discursive context and/or general knowledge.

Based on the available evidence, the following hypothesis can be formulated (Paradis, 1994b): Context-independent sentence grammar is separable from other aspects of sentence interpretation (discourse context-dependent rules and nonliteral meanings) and is indeed separated neurofunctionally; that is, although LH damage causes context-independent sentence grammar (phonological, morphological, syntactic and lexical) deficits, RH damage causes deficits in context-dependent interpretations, nonliteral interpretations, and affect-related aspects of language processing (in comprehension and production).

It is proposed that (context-independent) sentence grammar (linguistic competence as narrowly defined in theoretical linguistics) is subserved by specific areas of the LH and that, consequently, damage to those areas results in language structure deficits (ie, deficits in the use of phonology, morphology, syntax, and the lexicon in comprehension and production). It is further proposed that pragmatic aspects of language are subserved by the RH and that consequently, damage to specific areas of the RH results in context-dependent language deficits (eg, deficits in the use of presupposition, inference, cross-sentential anaphora and cataphora, sarcasm, indirect speech acts, idioms, metaphors, and any aspect of the nonliteral interpretation of sentences, in comprehension and production, including recognition and production of affective prosody). Communicative competence necessarily includes linguistic competence (as narrowly defined). In addition, and independently, it contains implicit pragmatic competence. Each is necessary but neither is sufficient for the normal use of language.

Best wishes to all,



Innate Grammar articles | Pinkie | October 25th, 2001

If anyone's interested, here are the URLs of two Guardian articles about a recent study that has identified a gene involved in language: article 1 | article 2

Doesn't mean Chomsky was right though!




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